I have found myself recently thinking and saying ‘Really?!’ an awful lot. Usually I say it silently to myself, but increasingly my incredulity is audible (especially when I’m driving). I’m not alone. ‘Really?!’ is showing up more and more. Since the 2006-07 season Saturday Night Live has run a segment built around the word. It’s quickly becoming a defining word for our cultural moment. It won’t last long, but the fad (in others and in myself) is disturbing.
What ‘Really?!’ Means
The 'Really?!' phrase gives voice to our arrogance. The word itself, of course, is benign. Intonation makes it a poignant phrase. We use it in disbelief at the poor judgment or utter silliness of another. We use it to express our disgust and our superiority over the ideas or behavior of others.
'Really?!' is also a product of our deepening cultural cynicism. Various thinkers have described the recent rise of cynicism. In his book A Praying Life Paul Miller explains, “Cynicism’s ironic stance is a weak attempt to maintain a lighthearted equilibrium in a world gone mad. These aren’t just benign cultural trends; they are your life…. Cynicism is the air we breathe, and it is suffocating our hearts.”
Saying ‘Really?!’ to ‘Really?!’
Despite its deep and insidious infiltration into our media, our daily speech, and our thoughts, followers of Jesus need to question what ‘Really?!’ represents. On the one hand, nothing should surprise us. The mistakes, the foibles, and the folly of others should be expected as long as we live in this broken world, surrounded by broken people.
On the other hand, we should have a continual posture of humility, even in the face of the ridiculousness, incompetence, or inconsiderateness of others.
And on the other hand (Really?! Three hands? Really?!) cynicism is not a worthy character trait. Skepticism ought to be replaced by faith. Again Miller writes, “The cynic is always observing, critiquing, but never engaged, loving, and hoping.” The Christian, conversely, is engaged not detached; prayerful not scoffing; and hopeful not despondent.
A gospel-informed posture offers a redeeming reversal of ‘Really?!’ There’s nothing wrong with the word itself. Redeeming ‘Really?!’ is as simple as a punctuation change. We need to be people who think and say, ‘Really!’ As in: ‘This world is a broken place—really!’ We name reality for what it is, absent any fake saccharine veneer. But we also name the Christian good news, too. 'Jesus—has come and died and risen again. Really!' 'And he will come again to set us right and put the whole world back together. Really!' Even in the face of weariness, confusion, setback (even cynicism) God is good and faithful. 'Really!' He is.